You’ve booked a Disney Cruise Line voyage, yay! One of the first things many guests ask (after “How am I going to pay for this?”) is “What should I wear?” This simple question is a hotly contested topic in some circles. I’m here to talk you through what you need to know.
What should I wear to dinner?
Disney Cruise Line ships each have three main dining rooms (MDRs). You will be assigned to eat at one of the three MDRs every night of your cruise.
The default dress code at the MDRs is “Cruise Casual.”
The MDRs may also have any of several possible other dress suggestions depending on the specifics of your sailing. These might include formal attire, semi-formal attire, pirate attire, tropical attire, Pixar attire, Frozen attire, or Star Wars attire. In the main dining rooms, everything other than cruise casual is simply a suggestion and is completely optional. I repeat EVERYTHING OTHER THAN CRUISE CASUAL IS OPTIONAL.
What does cruise casual mean?
Basically it means regular clothes. In mid-2013, Disney changed its definition of cruise casual to clarify that wearing shorts is OK. The only items now specifically discouraged in the main dining rooms are “swimwear and tank tops.” Jeans are fine. Shorts are fine. Capri pants are fine. Tee shirts are fine. Sandals are fine. Sneakers are fine. Even the “tank top” issue is malleable. Men should probably not wear tank tops, but I’ve worn slacks or skirts with nice sleeveless tops into the MDRs several times with no problem whatsoever. The general gist of the issue is that they don’t want you to wear beach clothing into the main dining rooms. Seriously, wear your regular clothes, minus swimwear, and you’re good to go.
What does formal attire mean?
Formal attire means tuxedos for the men and long gowns for the women.
I have to wear a tux? I didn’t even wear a tux at my wedding. Do I have to rent something just to wear for a few hours on vacation?
If you have a tux and want to wear it, enjoy. But in practice, only a small percentage of guests (particularly the men) will don full formal attire. Remember, I said that formal night is optional. Many guests choose to wear something nicer than “cruise casual” on formal night, but the range of dress is broad. Very broad.
I sailed on the Fantasy last month. Our formal night was Easter Sunday, a holiday on which you might expect a larger than typical portion of the guests to be gussied up. I sat in the lobby atrium for about 45 minutes, specifically paying attention to the clothing choices made by guests. While this wasn’t a scientific study, I can tell you that during my observation time, in which several hundred guests passed my location, I saw exactly three men wearing tuxedos and two men wearing full military dress uniforms (swoon). Perhaps half of the remaining men wore suits with jacket and tie. The rest of the men were fairly evenly split between jacket with no tie, button down shirt with slacks, golf shirt with slacks, button down shirt with shorts, and golf shirt with shorts. A handful wore regular tee shirts and shorts.
That same night, about a quarter of the women were wearing long dresses, about a quarter wore fancy cocktail dresses or pantsuits, about a quarter wore nice skirts or sundresses, and the remainder wore something like slacks or shorts with nice top.
If you want to wear a tux or gown on formal night, knock yourself out, but don’t feel obligated.
What are some good reasons why I would want to dress up on formal night?
For many guests, the primary motivator for formal dress seems to be getting family photos. If you’re having a family reunion or if you’ve never had real professional formal portraits done, the cruise is a decent opportunity to do this. You’re welcome to go back for photos as often as you like and all the shots can be included on one CD for a fixed price.
Other guests simply enjoy formal dress. I’ve heard several comments along the lines of, “I wear jeans all the time at home, the cruise is my one opportunity to dress up. I love every minute of it.”
If you want to dress in full formal attire, but don’t own the right clothing, try consulting Cruiseline Formalwear for a rental.
What are some good reasons not to wear fancy attire on formal night?
There are several good reasons not to dress up on formal night based on money. Some of these are: you don’t want to spend money to buy/rent formalwear; you own formalwear but don’t want to spend money to alter or clean it; you own formalwear but don’t want to spend money to check the bag required to transport it to the ship; you have a vacation budget allocated and you’d rather spend it on excursions or a nicer stateroom than on fussy clothing.
However, the very best reason not to dress up on formal night is that you don’t want to. Maybe you’re not a tux kind of guy. Maybe you wear suits all day for work and you look forward to the one time of year when you don’t have to dress up. Maybe you just think the entire thing is silly and pretentious.
Again, the dress in the main dining rooms is a suggestion, not a requirement.
What does semi-formal mean?
I’ve never seen an official definition of this anywhere. In my personal observation, most people interpret semi-formal to mean formal, but without the tux or long gown in the mix. For men, this often means a standard suit, with or without a tie. For women, this typically means a cocktail dress of approximately knee length. But as with formal night, you’ll see broad interpretation of style represented.
Will I feel silly if I’m not wearing formal or semi-formal attire in the main dining rooms? Will people judge me if I’m not wearing formal or semi-formal attire in the main dining rooms?
You do you. And if someone wants to judge, that’s their business, not yours.
Honestly, I’ve read some scorchingly mean posts on other forums — people looking down their nose at other guests whose attire is deemed not up to snuff in their “expert” estimation. My advice is to avoid online forums on this topic.
OK, I get that, but I still might feel weird wearing shorts in the main dining room when others are wearing suits.
If you wish, you can opt out of your MDR assignment and eat elsewhere any night or nights that you choose. You’re welcome to dine at Cabanas or have room service on any night. This will allow you to bypass all the dress-up hoopla in the main dining rooms.
But if you want to eat in the main dining room and wear shorts on formal night, go for it. It’s your cruise. You paid for it. Order everything on the menu and don’t give it a second thought.
Are the main dining room rules any different for children?
Nope. Formal night, semi-formal night, and theme nights theoretically apply to anyone on the ship. You will sometimes see seven year old boys wearing tiny tuxedos. This is NOT, I repeat NOT, a requirement, nor is it the norm. Many young boys will be wearing pants and a button down shirt on formal and semi-formal night. Or if the parents are tired, maybe they’re wearing shorts and a tee shirt. Choose your battles.
What’s the scoop with princess gowns?
Just like in the parks, there is never a requirement that a young girl wear any sort of princess attire ever. That being said, a sizable subset of girls under the age of ten do end up wearing some form of princess dress while cruising. This might be for a princess photo session or for dinner on formal night. If it’s not your daughter’s thing, that’s completely fine. If you do decide to have your daughter wear princess attire, you can buy dresses on the ship or bring them from home. In my opinion, some of the most charming princess attire is homemade.
What do I need to know about theme nights?
The most common theme night on Disney ships is pirate night. This happens on almost all DCL sailings in the Caribbean and Bahamas, as well as some other destinations. Disney will give every guest a pirate themed bandana to wear on pirate night. The on board shops will sell full pirate costumes for children as well as faux hook hands, eye patches, and other related accoutrements. As with formal and semi-formal night, how you decide to dress is up to you. A sizable minority of guests wear full pirate attire with custom designed clothing and boots. Another sizable minority wears just their regular clothing, with no nod to the pirate festivities going on around them. The middle group is the largest, with guests making a minor nod to the theme of the evening such as more dramatic makeup, skull-themed jewelry, or some Disneybound piratewear.
Pixar nights happen on most seven-night Alaska cruises. In my experience, far fewer guests make an attempt to dress thematically on Pixar night than they do on pirate night.
Star Wars and Frozen themed nights will debut in the coming year. Given the popularity of these franchises, my educated guess is that somewhat more than half of the guests on board will make at least some attempt to dress according to theme, but that means that many guests will also be dressed in normal clothing as well.
If you like dressing up on Halloween, you’ll probably like dressing up for cruise theme nights. If you don’t, then no worries. It’s your vacation, spend it as you wish.
How will I know whether I have a formal, semi-formal, or themed night on my cruise?
To find out exactly what will be happening on your sailing, call Disney Cruise Line at 800-951-3532. However, there are some guidelines:
- Three night cruises typically have: one standard cruise casual night, one pirate night, one semi-formal night
- Four night cruises typically have: two standard cruise casual nights, one pirate night, one semi-formal night
- Seven night cruises typically have: four standard cruise casual nights, one theme night (pirate or other depending on destination), one semi-formal night, one formal night.
- Cruises of longer than seven nights typically include more cruise casual dinners.
Are there times when the dress code is a real rule, not just a suggestion?
Yes. While the dress code in the three main rotational dining rooms is optional, the dress code in the adults-only restaurants, Remy and Palo, is a requirement. The requirement is enforced. I’ve never seen anyone turned away from the main dining rooms for dress code violations. I have seen guests asked to leave Palo when they’ve arrived wearing inappropriate attire.
What is the dress code at Palo?
There is a Palo restaurant on all four Disney ships. The DCL website states that the dress code is:
- Men: Dress pants and dress shirt (a jacket is optional)
- Women: Dress or pantsuit
- No jeans, shorts, capri pants, flip-flops or tennis shoes
The policing of the dress code is basically left up to the staff on site at the time of your visit. In my observation, the dress code is more lightly enforced at brunch than it is at dinner. I’ve seen men wearing golf shirts and slacks at brunch. I’ve also seen women wearing silk capris with kitten heels and a nice top be fine at Palo. The guests I have seen turned away were wearing blue jeans and yoga pants.
What is the dress code at Remy?
The Dream and the Fantasy have Remy restaurants on board. The DCL website states that the dress code is:
- Men: Dress pants with jacket (sports or suit jacket) is required—ties are optional.
- Women: A dress, cocktail dress, pantsuit or skirt/blouse is required
- No jeans, shorts, capri pants, flip-flops or tennis shoes
You really do have to dress up here. Men not wearing jackets will be turned away.
Dining at Palo and Remy is strictly optional (though very worthwhile, in my opinion). If you don’t want bring/wear fancy attire, then don’t plan a meal at these restaurants.
What do I wear during the day on my cruise?
This depends a bit on where you’re going and what you’ll be doing. The answer will be different if you’re an indoor person headed to Alaska than if you’re an outdoor person headed to Nassau.
If you’re going to a tropical destination in the Bahamas or Caribbean, you’ll find that most guests wear very casual clothing during the day. This may be a swimsuit (with or without a cover-up) by the pool, exercise gear, or shorts and a tee shirt. I’m not much of a pool person (I prefer to spend my days onboard at Bingo, trivia contests, and mixology classes), but I still bring a swimsuit for some spa treatments. There is virtually no need for anything other than the most casual clothing during the day on the ship.
What do I wear at Castaway Cay?
Castaway Cay is VERY casual. The most important thing to wear there is sunscreen. Seriously. Other than that, you need swimwear, if you plan to go in the water. You’ll probably want some sort of cover-up or shorts to throw on over your swimsuit if you plan on doing activities such as biking. If you’re running the Castaway Cay 5K, you’ll need running shoes. Those who burn easily will want a hat. Almost all guests will want to have some sort of water shoe or sandal; the pavement can get quite hot.
I’m heading to Alaska on my cruise. Any tips?
You’ll want to check the weather forecasts before you go. The temperatures in early June can be very different than in mid-August. However, in general you are going to want warm clothing.
During my own August Alaska cruise, I wore jeans and sweaters indoors around the ship.
On the Tracy Arm glacier observation day, I wore jeans, a long-sleeve tee shirt, a mid-weight sweater, hiking boots, a mid-weight down parka, and gloves. I was fine when I was in the sun, but when I sat on the deck in the shade, I was chilly. This is also what I wore for dogsledding on Mendenhall glacier.
In Ketchikan and Skagway, I swapped the parka for a lightweight waterproof windbreaker. Expect rain in Ketchikan and be pleasantly surprised if you don’t get poured on.
Swimsuits are less of an imperative on Alaska sailings than they might be on other itineraries. On my Alaskan DCL cruise, there were many children in the pools on our embarkation day in Vancouver. After that, I saw just a handful of guests using the hot tubs on deck and very few people using the larger pools. If you’re not a hot tub or spa person, it might be possible to leave your swimwear at home for this trip.
What should I wear for a Mediterranean cruise?
This really depends on what you’ll be doing during your trip. When you’re on the ship, the clothing on a European sailing is similar to that of any other DCL voyage, quite casual other than the formal and semi-formal nights when many guests do take it up a notch.
If you’re going to the beach or hiking in Mediterranean area, wear what you’d wear to go to the beach or hiking anywhere else. In Mediterranean port cities, you’ll find that Europeans dress with a bit more polish than Americans. During my DCL Med trip, our stops included Monaco and Rome, where even casual is stylish. We rarely saw non-tourists wearing sneakers or athletic clothing, which might be typical of American dress. You can choose to wear very casual items, but if you don’t want to be immediately seen as a tourist, leave your sneakers, backpacks, and logo tee shirts on the ship. Of course, if you’re in a large guided group, it’s probably pretty obvious you’re not a native anyway, but if you want to spend time on your own and you want to blend in, think simple, light clothing without obvious labels.
Be aware that there are dress codes in most European houses of worship. If you’re visiting a church or cathedral, be prepared to have your shoulders and knees covered at all times while you’re inside. On the day we visited Rome it was 105 degrees. My daughters and I wore sundresses for most of our touring; very light and moderately fashionable. When we were about to enter a church, we quickly slipped on leggings and threw scarves over our shoulders, which we removed immediately once we were back outside in the heat. The casino at Monaco has a strict business attire dress code in some playing rooms. Please check your excursion requirements before packing.
Most DCL European destinations have stops in ports with lots of cobblestone streets or other uneven pavement. You’re likely to be uncomfortable wearing flip-flops or other non-supportive shoes.
What about Northern Europe?
Depending on your exact sailing, the required clothing will be a hybrid of the Alaska and Mediterranean recommendations. If you’re on an excursion to the Arctic Circle, dress in warm layers. If you’re touring a metropolitan city like Stockholm and want to blend in with the locals, step up your fashion game a bit.
Any other types of clothing I might want to bring?
On most cruises of seven nights or longer, there is the opportunity for guests to participate in a family friendly talent show. If you’d like to take part in this, be sure to bring any special costumes or shoes that you might need.
Any more advice?
Be aware of your own personal idiosyncrasies. For example, if you typically get chilly in air-conditioning, bring a wrap or light sweater to wear in the theaters and dining rooms. If you’re not 100% steady on heels, perhaps save them to wear at a time when you’re not on a moving vessel. If you have sensitive eyes, sunglasses are a must for the tropics and Alaska.
Be sure to consult the guidelines of any excursions you’ve selected. For example, zipline excursions often require that you wear closed-toe shoes. Make sure you bring any required items.
If you’re trying to pack light, feel free to repeat outfits. For many guests on tropical sailings, the only time they change out of their swimsuit is to go to dinner. If you’re just wearing your golf shirt and slacks for an hour to eat, there’s no real reason you can’t wear the same thing on multiple nights.
Also, remember that there are onboard laundry facilities. Each ship has several guest accessible laundry rooms with washers, dryers, and irons. The cost is about $2.00 for each wash and dry. There is also a full drycleaning service onboard, with a turnaround time of less than 24 hours. Drycleaning a two-piece suit currently costs $7.00. Pressing-only is half that rate.
Cruise veterans, what did I forget? Do you have any tips for how to dress on a Disney cruise? Is there anything you wish you knew about what to wear before you took your first Disney cruise? What questions do you have? Let us know in the comments below.